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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources

 

Living in Light of Two Ages

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Wednesday
Jul262017

Rasputin -- When Truth Really Is Stranger than Fiction

I have heard many of the same legendary tales about the Russian mystic, Grigory Rasputin, you may have heard. 

Rasputin had unexplained healing powers.  He could seduce (and apparently did) virtually any woman he wanted.  His inexplicable ties to the Romanov family (especially whispers about his relationship to the Czarina) helped lead to the downfall of the Russian royals in Lenin's brutal revolution.

But the most bizarre of these legends have to do with Rasputin's death--and how he was nearly impossible to kill, adding a "Frankenstein" quality enhancing all the other legends.  Rasputin, we are told, was poisoned, then shot several times, tied-up, and pushed off a bridge into a frozen river.  But somehow he managed to sit up (apparently still alive), when his corpse arrived at the mortician.

Much of the proceeding is true, although much less bizarre, and actually far more consequential when seen in light of the historical narrative spelled out in Douglas Smith's new book, Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs.

Lets start with the death legends.  Rasputin actually didn't ingest the poison intended for him.  He died from several gunshots--one as he was running away after being shot previously.  Those who plotted his death did indeed throw his corpse into the river, to hide their handiwork.  And when his remains were being cremated, his body bent in two from heat.  All the elements of the legend are there--just far less macabre.

In Smith's well-written narrative, the historical realities reveal the legends to be, in many cases, exaggerations and fabrications.  But sometimes there is enough smoke that there must be fire--and fire there is.  Rasputin was a lecherous man, who sinned to prove his own depravity and then seek forgiveness for it--a sort of mystic antinomian.  The grim reality of the havoc Rasputin brought upon the royal family was also painfully real--nothing less than disastrous for the royals and the Russian people. 

As Smith tells the Rasputin tale, a number of haunting question arise.  How was this man--a peasant laborer in his early life--able to transform himself into a religious mystic who simultaneously was, and was not, in the good graces of the orthodox church? 

How did this peasant (with a loyal wife and children) become a mass-seducer, including many of the "ladies" in the leading circles of St. Petersburg?  How did he gain the Czarina's ear, if not her bed? 

Although Nicholas II had little use for Rasputin's political advice, or tips on military strategy, why did he allow this evil man access to his family?  Why did the Czar listen to this man's spiritual counsel?

One answer to these question is found in Rasputin's amazing power to "heal" the young Czar-apparent, Alexi, who suffered from hemophilia.  When Rasputin visited Alexi and prayed with him, the lad got better.  Repeatedly.  Because he could heal their son, the Romanovs welcomed him. 

The other answer is that the Romanovs, while loyal to their church, were also mystics who saw in Rasputin spiritual powers they could not explain, except as coming from the hand of God.  Even when the Great War become a national debacle, and even while insurrection was fomenting in the streets--which would lead to eventual regicide by the Leninists--the Romanovs did little to distance themselves from the very man who raised so many questions.  Rumors were everywhere about Rasputin's relationship to Alexandria while Nicholas was away fighting the war.  And why was the Czar--as rumor had it--listening to the "Holy" man who supposedly seduced his wife and much of her inner circle.

Douglas Smith tackles all of these questions.  Grigory Rasputin did not bring about the Russian Revolution.  But he gave many a Russian good reason to question to Czar's judgment and his royal authority--which did lead to their downfall.  The Czar seemed indifferent to the people's plight, and Rasputin's presence among the royals magnified that perception.

When it comes to Rasputin, truth is much stranger than fiction.  Smith's book is a good summer read, if you are looking for one.   

Too bad Daniel Day Lewis has retired from acting--Rasputin would make a great subject for a film, and Lewis would be the perfect actor to play him.

Saturday
Jul152017

The Short and the Tall of It

The world of sports is filled with contrasts:

Aaron Judge (6' 8") and Ronald Torreyes (5' 8").

Manute Bol (7' 7") and Spud Webb (5' 7")

Wilt Chamberlain (7' 1") and Willie Shoemaker (4' 11")

 

Wednesday
Jul122017

Civil Religion -- The Chief Rival of Biblical Christianity in America?

 

One of the most subtle and dangerous temptations Christians face during their pilgrim journey is the allure of civil religion.  James Davison Hunter defines civil religion as a “diffuse amalgamation of religious values that is synthesized with the civic creeds of the nation; in which the life and mission of the church is conflated with the life and mission of the country.  American values are in substance, biblical, prophetic values; American identity is, thus, a vaguely Christian identity.” (1)  Civil religion often functions as an alternative public religious framework for many professing Christians, especially those who accept the “Christian America” myth, or who find exclusive Christian truth claims too controversial to play any significant role in the public square. 

In modern America, civil religion is the chief rival to biblical Christianity.  If those Christians who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the kingdom of Christ and the civil kingdom, and who willingly placing themselves under the authority of God’s word are considered too extreme to be fully welcomed in America’s public square, those who champion a generic “civil religion” are almost always welcome.

Civil religion is an especially tempting option for Christians who have been told that religion is a private matter which has no place in the public square.  The basic tenants of civil religion are vague enough that it is hard to deny them.  They are also deeply held by too many Americans to eliminate them altogether from American life.  Rather than check their faith in Jesus at the door to the public square, Christians can embrace civil religion in the public arena and few will complain, since virtually all citizens embrace the key tenants:  a belief in a Creator; the basic goodness of humanity; equality for all; a profound sense of national purpose; and the celebration of national holidays with an almost religious reverence, (i.e, Independence Day, Memorial Day, and the National Day of Thanksgiving).  Yet, to confuse Christ’s kingdom with civil religion opens the door–however unintentionally–to exchange the truth of Christianity for what amounts to a false religion, one in which faith in the national interest eclipses the primary allegiance a Christian owes to Jesus Christ and his word.

The attraction to civil religion also arises from the fact that Christians often strive to be good citizens and apply their deeply-held Christian convictions to their actions in the civil kingdom.  Even when motivated by the best of intentions, Christians can easily find themselves attributing normative moral authority to the state, especially when the state’s current values and purposes appear to coincide with the revealed will of God (the moral law).  When national values resonate with the tenants of someone’s Christian faith, it is easy to take the next step and assume what the nation does (whether that be in matters of foreign or domestic policy) accomplishes the will of God.  The nation is believed to be God’s righteous agent and avenger, exercising God’s will, with his full authority and blessing.

When current events are read through the lens of civil religion, the nation’s struggles can be vividly portrayed in biblical images of sacrifice and redemption, and framed as part of the larger cosmic struggle between good and evil.  Our enemies declared to be “evil” because they oppose the good–our nation and its current cause.  Our national warriors are righteous redeemers, doing the Lord’s work, giving the full measure of their devotion to “save” others.  As Abraham Lincoln put it in his famed Gettysburg Address, those buried in the national cemetery gave their lives so that the nation might live.  Without question, our soldiers and statesmen have often been heroic and sacrificed much to secure our current freedom and way of life.  But their shed blood saved a secular nation from temporal peril, not their sinful souls from eternal punishment.

To read the rest of this essay, Civil Religion -- the Chief Rival of Biblical Christianity?

Tuesday
Jun272017

Have You Taken a DNA Test to Find Your Roots/Ethnicity? -- If You Have European Ancestry, This Is Must Reading

Jean Manco's revised and updated book Ancestral Journeys is one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time.   

The author is a "building historian," but is well equipped to combine archaeology,  climate history, and DNA research.  She capably turns a complicated and potentially boring subject into a well-written narrative, even though you had better read it with easy access to Wikipedia in order to look up all the ancient place names and regions lost to us moderns and now unfamiliar to most of us.

Climate Change?

While going though her book, it immediately becomes apparent that much of where early Europeans lived and why they moved has to do with climate change.  Rising seas, long periods of rain/cold weather, and extended periods of draught caused our ancestors to migrate, at times even from one end of the European continent to the other.  The old notion that the ancestors of many modern Europeans were peoples driven West by Eurasian invaders (i.e., Huns, etc.,) does not tell the whole story and has been greatly revised in light of DNA evidence.

At one point people could walk from Denmark (Jutland) across marshland to that future island we now identify as "England."  Climate change is obviously cyclical.  In fact, all of this occurred before the possibility that our contemporaries would disrupt sea levels and population centers by raising the earth's temperature through the use of fossil fuels and unfriendly environmental practices.  Either early humans did the same damage to the environment we are doing, or else there must be some other cause for global warming--perhaps natural causes such as solar influences?

Into Africa, Not Out of Africa?

While not a Christian, virtually everything Manco states about the culture and migratory patterns of early humans is closely tied to that region we identify as Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent).  Manco points out along the way that many of the long-standing theories of the peopling of Europe have been recently overturned, which makes me wonder how long will it be before the evidence pushes folk to conclude that just because Louis Leakey found ancient bipedal hominids in the Olduvai Gorge, that it is just as likely that modern humans migrated into Africa, rather than out of Africa.   But then this would tend to confirm the biblical account, and we can't have that, can we?

Dating?  Too Early?

Manco addresses one of the main issues I've had with DNA test companies--the assignment of very ancient dates for human origins.  I'm not a scientist nor a statistician, but it always bugged me that archaeologists boldly inform us of "certain dating" using what they call the "evolutionary effective rate" to determine the rate of mutations of the various human haplogroups (your inherited DNA type).  But isn't a genetic mutation, by definition, a random event, and can occur repeatedly within a few generations?  Must we assume that mutations occur at a fixed rate so as to push human origins back far enough to allow for some sort of human evolutionary model?  Manco concludes that using this evolutionary effective rate "overestimates ages dramatically" (231).  I'm glad to see someone in the DNA/archaeology community admit as much.  There is nothing in any of this to prove an ancient origin (50,000 BC or often much earlier) for the human race.  Much of the dating process is nothing more than sophisticated guesswork.  Manco even implies that modern humans are much more recent in origin than previously thought.

Race

The growing interest in DNA testing changes everything when it comes to race--or it should.  I grew up being taught in public school that there were three races (Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid), and that modern humans evolved from apes.  This theory was always taught with the accompanying and despicable chart implying that African-Americans were somehow closer to primitive human ancestors than white Europeans.  One thing the proliferation of DNA testing has done is effectively put an end to such nonsense.  We all have common ancestors, and we are all, genetically speaking, a combination of many DNA haplogroups (in terms of our autosomal DNA--which the DNA companies use to determine your "ethnicity").  There is one Adamic race, and each of us are not only divine image-bearers, but we share a common ancestry and origin--an ancestral Adam and Eve.  We also share in Adam's Fall, which is the root cause of all race division and conflict.

Interesting Stuff I Never Knew . . .

I knew that slavery was the fate of weaker humans and losers in battle from the time of the earliest human civilizations.  But Manco contends that given the overwhelming number of slaves held in Europe and Middle East by the Romans and many others before and after, virtually all white Europeans have a high mathmatical probability of genetic ancestors who were slaves.  Yes, there may be a king or noble in your line, but there is almost a certainty that there is slavery too.

DNA tests have shown that reindeer originally came from Spain before migrating to Lapland, and that one group of ancient peoples (the Saami) have been closely tied to them ever since.  DNA proves that apples came from the Lli Valley in Kazakhstan, before the tree was "domesticated."

The movement of the Celts and Goths is a very complicated affair, but can be traced by language and the DNA they left behind.  "England" derives from the designation Angle-Land.  Britain is, of course, the Roman designation.  The Slavs have a very recent origin (500 A.D.) and expanded very rapidly into places like the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  This expansion also can be traced by using DNA testing and the rise of a distinctly Slavic language.

The book is filled with fascinating information like this.

As for Me

It would figure that I am not just the typical R1B white guy.  My DNA was recently reclassified by Family Tree DNA (the best DNA testing company, IMHO, if you wish to pursue this further).  My y-DNA was originally classified as G2A, one of the first y-DNA haplogroups to enter Europe, not very common (about 5% of the male population) but widely spread, originating in Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq (remember modern countries and "ethnic groups" did not yet exist).  There is a cluster in Switzerland.

But an additional test determined I am H2-P96--very, very rare in modern Europe (a fraction of a percent, with a cluster in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland), and now counted as among the very first peoples to enter Europe after the Ice Age (92-93).  The mainstream y-haplogroup "H" is found in large numbers in India and Pakistan.  So at some point way back when, one brother went West into Europe.  His DNA survived in a few European folk like me.  But his brothers went East and filled an entire subcontinent!  The Romani (H1), left India a thousand years ago and went West to Romania.  We know them today as "Gypsies." 

Apparently, my ancestors have been in Switzerland for a long, long time.  I've always had this weird desire to paint pictures of animals on my walls.  Now I know where that comes from.  My mtDNA (my mother's mother's mother's  . . . line) is U5B, a very common and ancient DNA, found throughout Europe, with much of it occuring before the Ice Age (50).  Many of you with European ancestry reading this probably have the same mtDNA. 

Tuesday
Jun202017

Better in Turkish?

Just heard from the editor that my contribution on First Corinthians in the Lectio Continua series is now being published in Turkish.

You can order the English version from Reformation Heritage Books.  It is on sale!  First Corinthians Tolle Lege

Sunday
Jun182017

"Whatever One Sows" -- Galatians 6:1-10

Here's the audio from this morning's sermon on Galatians 6:1-10.

Click Here

 

Sunday
Jun182017

This Week's White Horse Inn (Updated Website)

Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture

How are we to interpret the Bible, especially in light of the fact that there are so many different traditions, denominations, and schools of thought? Are we allowed to interpret a passage however we like, or are there some basic rules and guidelines to follow? On this program the hosts will begin a two-part series on this topic as they walk through some basic rules of “hermeneutics,” or the science of biblical interpretation.

Click Here

 

Friday
Jun162017

"Got Me a Gator"

That is one big alligator--more than 15 feet with a huge head.  It had been killing the rancher's cattle when they came to drink.  That won't happen again.

Friday
Jun162017

"The Majesty on High" -- S. M. Baugh's New Book on the Kingdom of God

Summer is often considered a great time to tackle a couple of good books.  Let me heartily recommend that you add S. M. Baugh's new book, Majesty on High:  Introduction to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, to your list.

Dr. Baugh was a classmate at Westminster Seminary California (class of 84).  But don't let his antiquity negatively influence your decision. 

This is a wonderful book--filled with great biblical insights and wisdom.  Just what, exactly, is the relationship between the kingdom of God and the covenantal structure of Scripture?  How does a proper understanding of the kingdom of God impact the way we see the relationship between the New and Old testaments. 

This is great theology with a devotional warmth.

Here's a recommendation of the book from someone you might know.

"There has long been the need for a popular book on the Kingdom of God--one which draws upon current insights from biblical theology, and which addresses contemporary issues in eschatology, ethics, and covenant theology.  S. M. Baugh has provided us with a wonderful book which does all of this.  "The Majesty on High" achieves the rare feat of being readily accessible, while reflecting the scholarly wisdom gained from years of study and teaching New Testament.  It even comes with study questions, and is suitable for both personal and group Bible study.  Highly recommended!"

You can purchase Majesty on High here.

Wednesday
Jun142017

Lion of Princeton to Get New Cover

My 2015 book on Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, is being given a new cover by Lexham Press (the publisher).

The Lion of Princeton is part of Lexham's series in "Studies in Historical Theology & Systematic Theology."

You can read more about the Lion of Princeton here:  The Lion of Princeton